Tennis

Naomi Osaka says 'happiness' primary reason behind split with coach Sascha Bajin

Kyodo

Australian Open champion and new world No. 1 Naomi Osaka talked Sunday about her recent break with coach Sascha Bajin ahead of next week’s Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.

Osaka, who revealed on Twitter last Monday she was parting ways with Bajin, said she put her happiness first and foremost when making the decision to find a new coach.

“I think my reason is I wouldn’t put success over my happiness. That’s my main thing,” Osaka said at her first press conference since becoming the top women’s singles player in the world.

“I know that everyone thinks it was a money-related issue, but it wasn’t. For me, that’s one of the most hurtful things I’ve ever heard, because I travel with everyone on my team — I see them more than my family, so I would never do that to them.”

The 21-year-old said she had been considering letting Bajin go since the Australian Open, where she claimed her second straight Grand Slam title following her maiden win at the U.S. Open last September.

“It was kind of brewing in Australia and I think some people could see that if they saw how we interacted,” Osaka said.

“I would not want to split on really bad terms, because of course he was sort of the one who made me open up to people, so I didn’t want it to be a really hostile thing.”

Bajin, a former hitting partner for Serena Williams, has been credited with helping Osaka improve the mental aspect of her game during her breakthrough season and was named 2018 WTA coach of the year.

Under the German’s tutelage, Osaka became the 10th woman in history to win the U.S. Open and Australian Open back-to-back, and the first-ever Asian world No. 1.

“I’m not going to say anything bad about him because, of course, I’m really grateful for all the things that he’s done,” Osaka said. “I wouldn’t just come here and say anything bad. If anything, you would have to be around him to see, or ask him.”

Osaka said she will likely begin searching for a new coach after the tournament, and that it would be “not really ideal” to appear at next month’s Indian Wells Open, where she won her first WTA title last year, without a coach.

Masashi Yoshikawa, who is in charge of Osaka at the Japan Tennis Association, will act as her support during the tournament.

“Yoshikawa-san is not really my coach-coach,” Osaka said. “He’s just been helping me since I was 16. He’s one of the people that knows my game the most. He’s always around at certain tournaments, he’s always helping.”

“I thought it would be a good idea for him to come here since I’m sort of stuck right now. This is the one tournament that I think I need someone around that’s very helpful.”

The No. 1 seed will face France’s Kristina Mladenovic in a second-round match next week in Dubai after pulling out this week’s Qatar Open due to a back injury. She reached the quarterfinals at last year’s Dubai Tennis Championships.